Networking tips for the reluctant networker

Now that the holidays are over, many businesspeople are reviewing their plans for success in the new year. Building new business relationships may be on the top of their lists because running a business requires having relationships. Successful business leaders do everything they can to invest in the wide range of relationships they have with their investors, peers, employees, suppliers, and most importantly with their customers.

Whether you love it or hate it, business networking is one of the needed skills at the heart of building successful and beneficial relationships with other businesspeople and prospective customers. With all the opportunities for business networking in Dane County, it seems like this step in developing, cultivating, and nurturing these relationships should be easy. However, many folks find it difficult.

We begin networking in the crib when we first smile at those strange big people peering in at us. From then on we actually practice networking everywhere we go — school, church, sports, the movies, the gym, and even the grocery store.

One of the hardest parts of networking and building relationships is thinking we don’t know what to say or do. While not everyone is “blocked” by this step, it’s hard for many to extend a hand to a complete stranger.

Some of my business friends call me the “Queen of Power Networking.” Whether or not that title fits, I’d like to share a couple tricks to help reluctant networkers to break the ice when attending networking events:

  • Keep in mind that other folks may share your nervous feelings. Admit your fear (to yourself) and then get on with it;
  • Act like the event is an interview;
  • Have a list of questions that you are comfortable with like, “Do you attend these events often?” “Are you originally from this area?” “Which is your favorite event?”;
  • Arrive early and offer to help with registration or whatever else might need a helper;
  • Ask the event planners if an attendance list is available. Knowing who will be at the event can help you do some homework to learn about what’s happening with the companies represented;
  • Make yourself visible. Don’t hide in a corner. Exude as much confidence as possible. Enthusiasm counts for a lot;
  • Make the first move;
  • Be observant and pay attention;
  • Look people in the eye;
  • Connect on non-business topics;
  • Listen, listen, listen. Show genuine interest in new contacts;
  • Look for something in common with new “friends”;
  • Don’t “over-card” new contacts;
  • Have a “30-second commercial” ready for your own introduction;
  • Spend at least two-thirds of your time with people you don’t know yet;
  • Find out about the other person before talking about yourself and your company;
  • Write notes on the back of each card you get;
  • Follow up. Invest the time to build a relationship;
  • Don’t expect immediate gratification. Building business relationships takes time and nurturing; and
  • Keep in touch. Follow up, follow up, follow up.

You are the only one in charge of the way you network. You select your own networking choices and you nurture your network in your own way.

The universal truth of Power Networking according to Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Black Book of Connections is “Make friends! Play nice! Take a bath! Do your homework!”

Don’t waste any opportunity to build business relationships — there are many networking opportunities coming up now that we’ve entered a new year. I hope to meet you at one!

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